Thankful Thursday: the natural world

So much of our current reality causes me outrage, fear, and anxiety. It’s gotten so that I struggle with getting out of bed in the morning. But today I’m grateful for a new writing project that brings me happiness.

Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard. Greenhouse Trail, Cave Creek Canyon. May 14, 2019

I’m always at my best when fully immersed in a project, especially when the subject matter involves the glories of our natural world, and so this dapper lizard feels like the perfect guide for today’s work.

Poking and prying with a purpose

The synopsis for my work-in-progress includes a plot point in which my protagonist has an accident that results in medical costs her family can’t afford. When I wrote it, I didn’t think much beyond that general idea. For the last couple days, I’ve been working on those scenes. And it’s slow-going. Why?


How are federal poverty levels determined?
How much Medicaid coverage is available if the state declined federal funding?
What are hospital costs vs urgent care costs?
What happens if you miss an insurance payment?

It’s interesting (and infuriating) to do this kind of research in the shadow of the Repugnicans’ efforts to deny health care to millions of people for the sole purpose of giving the obscenely rich more tax breaks. If I’m not careful, my story could easily turn into a one-issue manifesto. (Universal health care, yo!)

I’m trying to keep this quote from Zora Neale Hurston in mind:

Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose.

I’m down this rabbit hole to better serve my plot and story.

Is that you?

I spent a fair amount of time yesterday and today searching for character images. I’m writing about a girl and her little sister, and want to have touchstone photos I can refer to when I feel myself veering off track.

I love this photo, but it’s not quite right. There seems to be something off about each image I find. The expression is wrong or the hair is too long, too blonde, too short, too punk. Or the hair is perfect, but the eyes don’t speak to me and the body language is wrong.

I guess what I really need is a photo-based Mr. Potato Head.



Switching Off My Nonfiction Brain

I just turned in the second of two nonfiction projects due this month.
Oh, happy day!
Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy nonfiction.
I love the research and
the learning and
the challenge of distilling all that information for young readers.

But right now I’m happy happy happy
knowing that I’m (temporarily, at least) going back
to fiction
where it is not necessary to footnote every single sentence.

Fiction: where it’s all about making up shit.

Be still, my heart.
beating heart clipart

Trivial Tuesday: Writer-in-Action Edition

I’m reworking one of my middle-grade manuscripts and decided to change a character’s name. The girl is named after her grandmother so I wanted to use Little + Name, but when I did an online search to make sure it wasn’t already a common name in children’s literature I discovered it was, indeed, common. In the porn world. (Fortunately, the girl’s name is Spanish so I can use the -ita diminutive and drop the Little.)

Then I went to make my morning smoothie and the vibrating Ninja blender caused a wine glass to tip in the dish rack and smash against the counter top.
Broken wine glass 004Wonder if Judy Blume faces these types of challenges?

Wisconsin Death Trip

When Zippy and I lived in Anchorage, we took a black and white photography class at UAA. Our instructor (hey, Bob!), learned I was originally from Wisconsin and asked if I’d ever read WISCONSIN DEATH TRIP. I had not. But I filed the title away in the dim recesses of my brain until a couple weeks ago when I came across the book while doing research.

Wisconsin Death Trip cover

From Wikipedia: “[Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy] is based on a collection of late 19th century photographs by Jackson County, Wisconsin photographer Charles Van Schaick, mostly in the city of Black River Falls, and local news reports from the same period. It emphasizes the harsh aspects of Midwestern rural life under the pressures of crime, disease, mental illness, and urbanization.”

This book dispels any notions about “the good old days,” with its pages of matter-of-fact newspaper accounts of death and insanity. It boggles the mind to contemplate living in that time and place, and the grim expressions in the photographs make me ache for everything those people endured. It’s not easy to read, yet the book is incredibly compelling; I feel almost obligated to finish it as a sort of tribute to them and their monumentally difficult lives. (One newspaper excerpt mentioned the small town where I grew up. A grave was excavated — the article didn’t say why — and when the coffin was opened, it was discovered the woman had shifted position inside because she’d been accidentally buried alive. As if life above ground wasn’t horrible enough during that time . . .)

What’s the takeaway from all this? I’m very grateful I did not live in Wisconsin in the late 1800s because I’m quite sure there’d be a notice in the newspaper about my admittance to the state psychiatric hospital. Unless I took the attitude of Mary “The Window Smasher” Sweeny, and broke plate glass windows wherever and whenever I had the chance.

In light of all I’ve read about life back then, smashing glass seems like a relatively healthy coping mechanism.


Sound Effects


Have you ever felt insecure about the way you depict a sound in your writing?

The other day I struggled to come up with onomatopoeic words for an action in my story,
and ended up using "plonk" and "kerplonk."
Not genius, by any means, but usable words.

Except now I’m questioning how I hear things.

I’ve always used "creaky" to describe the sound of a Mourning Dove taking flight,
but just did research that indicates most, if not all, people would describe that sound
as "whistling."

Say what?!

                                                                                                                       © Tracy Abell 2011

Research or Time Suck?

I’m reading this right now
to help me figure out character motivation
and resolve a plot issue.

It turns out catchers are an interesting breed
and I’m enjoying the book
which makes me wonder
if I’ve moved beyond Research
into Procrastination.


Finding Answers and Making Connections

Last night I read my WIP from start to finish (which sounds pretty impressive until you know it’s only about 5500 words so far), and was satisfied it’s solid. Solid enough to continue moving forward, anyway. But as I outlined the next chapter I realized I needed some basic info about the legalities of how a photographer makes arrangements to photograph people. Not in a studio but in everyday settings. So today I did an online search and came up with this great resource that led me to some unflinchingly honest portraits by Marc McAndrews. I emailed Marc and told him the premise of my story and listed my questions. He wrote back very quickly with friendly and thorough answers. The funny thing is, the photos he does are nothing like the photographer’s work in my story but I loved Marc’s take on the world, and so took a chance on him helping me.

It really is true that people are eager to share their expertise with writers, and I choose to believe this willingness to help is due to the universal love of books.

Now all I have to do is write the next chapter.